The Bible in a Year – 13 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

13 August. Job chapters 29-31

A couple of days ago I considered whether the charge laid against Job by Eliphaz in chapter 22 might hold some truth: was he in fact a heartless capitalist who had become rich at the expense of others?  It is always difficult to be criticised, whether in private or in public, and harder still to hold up one’s head and remain confident of being right, however unreasonable the charges being brought. There is always a tendency – at least among ‘reasonable’ people – to wonder whether in fact the fault might be your own.  Standing up to your accuser and insisting that you are innocent not only in your own eyes and under human laws, but also in the eyes of God and under his divine law, is a bold stance that tends to sound like boasting.

 

Chapter 29 may give an understanding of how Job could manage, in chapter 31, to utterly refute Eliphaz.  In the former, he recalls how before the start of his affliction, he was not only wealthy but respected by all the important people of his city.  In the latter he uses that positive recollection to support his case. In the latter he lists his virtues – caring for the stranger, orphan, widow and poor – and also the sins that he has avoided – lust, adultery, violence, discrimination, greed.  At the end of the arguments with his so-called comforters, Job is quite sure that he has done nothing to deserve God’s punishment, and everything that he can to remain right with his maker.

 

The Bible in a Year – 27 June

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

27 June. Psalms 1-8.

The Psalms – all 150 of them – are so diverse and rich in meaning that it is going to be difficult to write just a few paragraphs about each batch of them.  Some days I may write a little about each one, other days pick a single psalm to explore.  If I have missed your favourite, do let me know why you like it!  I will be using the ‘protestant’ rather than ‘catholic’ numbering of the psalms, since that is what I am more familiar with, and sometimes I will quote from the traditional translations rather than the modern (NRSV). But let’s start with the first one.

 

Some Bibles give each psalm the Latin title by which it was known in the days when they were regularly changed by monks and parish choirs in that ancient language.  The first is known as Beatus vir  – “Blessed is the man”.  Modern translations render this as “Happy are those (… who do not follow the advice of the wicked)”.  Right at the start of this collection of wisdom poetry and sacred songs is the assertion that the route to true happiness is not through “success”, wealth or even good health, but in moral virtue.  Those who follow God’s way are like well-watered trees: strong, resistant to anything life can throw at them, and (though the psalmist would not have realised this) producing life-giving oxygen to sustain human life.  The wicked by contrast are “chaff” – straw in the wind – and of no use to anyone.

 

Psalm 2 is the bold statement of the king in Jerusalem that he is God’s son and that through him God will bring victory over those who conspire against him.  No doubt written by or for one of the kings of Judah, probably David to whom several of the psalms are attributed, but Christians see this as a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, whom God addressed audibly as “son” at his baptism, and whose “reign” from Jerusalem started with his resurrection.

 

Psalm 4 is one of those regularly sung at Compline (the last prayer time of the day in the monastic tradition), owing to its last verse: “In peace will I lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  Combined with verse 4 “When you are angry do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent”, this helps us to relax and forget our worries at the end of the day.

 

Psalms 5, 6 and 7 are among the many written in times of anguish by David (or others) who were in terror of their enemies.  From them we learn that God is never with those who wield terror and threats, rather he is with their intended victims, for he is the defender of the weak and oppressed.  Never forget that, and always consider which side you are on in times of dispute.

 

Psalm 8 is definitely one of my favourites.  For a rare moment in the Bible, which normally pays little attention to the skies (perhaps as a reaction against the sun-worship and astrology of other religions), we are reminded that this earth is just a tiny part of a vast and wonderful creation, the whole purpose of which is to bring praise and glory to its creator.  The writer of this psalm could not have begun to imagine the vastness of the universe as scientists now describe it, but even so he or she was over-awed by creation and moved to worship.  So should we be.